My father died on 3 November 1983. I was 29 years old; he was 73, just 12 years older than I am now.
My father has been gone physically from my life for 33 years. His absence spans much more of my life than his presence.
Even when he was alive, our relationship was defined more by distance than intimate connection. Being father to a confusing son was not a natural gift for my Dad. He had other gifts but being present to his only son was not one of them. Children were mostly my mother’s territory.
My father did not have a sporting bone in his body. We did not play games together. He was not a practical man. We did not build or fix things together.
My father was a bookish man, most comfortable in his wingback chair, with a book and a cup of tea. Even as a child apparently, a great deal of his life took place within his head. He once wrote,
The imaginative life of a child can, I think, be a precious thing. As a boy I had two constant companions called Bill and Galamma (so I could never be lonely) with whom I entertained myself in silent conversation.
Thinking of my father, I realize he was in large part a product of the era in which he was raised. At 12 years old, my father was sent away to English boarding school, first at Worksop and then at Bloxham. My impression is that after this he never really knew his own father at all. He must have become accustomed to the idea that father’s were expected to be largely absent from their children’s lives.
As I think about being a father on this Father’s Day, the one thing I most want my children to feel is that I have not been absent. I do not imagine, or much care, if they think I was the best father in the world. I am not concerned if they remember me as the greatest material provider or the most fabulously successful professional. But, I do hope they feel I showed up for their lives. I want them to think of me being present because I believe presence is most deeply what they long to know.
Presence does not demand. It does not burden the other with endless expectations, is not distant or harsh. It never shouts or shames. It does not require that you be a certain way before embracing fully the gift that you are. Presence never resorts to force.
As a father I hope my children experience me as a person who values their place in my life without condition, absolutely, unconditionally. I want only to be a loving presence in their lives.
Love is a verb. The action of the verb “to love” is being there for the other person. Love wants to know the other. Love listens; it pays attention. Love is open, and receptive to the other. Love always leans towards gentleness.
A present parent becomes for their offspring an icon of God who is present everywhere and whose presence can be known by all people regardless of birth, upbringing, skills, talents, or accomplishments. We are not alone. The first opportunity we have to learn that lesson is with our parents as they are present in our lives.
I want my children to know how much I cherish their company and to know that this cherishing is a small reflection of the value God sees in them and that this is the source of their true worth and their only hope of real security. Loving presence is really the first job of a father.